Guest Column

Why Zuma needs to ditch the script on xenophobia

2015-04-20 15:50
President Jacob Zuma addressing a crowd. (Giordano Stolley, News24)

President Jacob Zuma addressing a crowd. (Giordano Stolley, News24)

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We are not telling you to go home - Zuma to KZN xenophobia refugees

2015-04-20 08:01

President Jacob Zuma has called on religious leaders to pray for peace and friendship following the recent spate of violent attacks against foreign nationals over the past few weeksWATCH

Mathatha Tsedu

Anyone who knows President Jacob Zuma even just slightly would know that he is passionate about Africa and its well being. So the ongoing Afrophobic attacks can only bring him heartaches and shame. How does he explain this to his fellow Excellencies?

The decision to address the issue in Parliament, visit the camps of shame where our brothers and sisters are cowering in fear of us, and take time before the ANC NWC to speak about his views, are an indication of ongoing concern and attempts to find solutions.

He doesn’t however seem to be making any impact. And I think it is partly because of how he has gone about it.

When the President is fired about something, he speaks from the heart. We saw snippets of this when he was in full flight last month answering questions about allegations involving his Nkandla home.

He had no script and even calls by the Speaker to him to take his seat went unheeded as he was so engrossed in what he wanted to say. Whether you believed him or not is not an issue, it is the delivery of that message that day, as well as when he gave the Freedom Front some history lessons.

Last week, he read a speech about the attacks. And it was dull and not gripping attention. Given how we know he feels about what is going on, why did he need a speech? This was the moment when he should have stood there and speak from the heart and provide leadership in a convincing manner.

Reading, especially in the way he normally does, really subtracts from the emotion and impact and leaves it as a droning speaker, reading something written by someone else. It did not work because this is something he should be able to speak about without notes.

Then on Friday he went to Chatsworth to see the camps and speak to the affected people. He was dressed in a red jacket more suited to a gala evening of a state banquet or a wedding reception.

Seeing the jacket

Here are people, some of whom have lost everything, and you arrive in that jacket! It was incongruous and detracted from whatever he had to say. Some amongst us may remember back in the early days of '94 when then Gauteng Premier, Tokyo Sexwale, dressed in a suit after talking to business people, stopped the motorcade on the highway and changed to track suits for a meeting with township folks. He understood that the ambience is as important, if not more so, sometimes, than the actual message.

It is the nuance of looks and sounds and delivery methods that sometimes make or break a good message. And the President and his office should know that. For in the red suave jacket was encapsulate a message that he either was from some lavish function or heading there.

The camp, its inhabitants and their life and death troubles were just a stop over, it seemed. So whatever he said, what people were seeing was the jacket and asking questions about that instead of hearing him.

In contrast the animation in his voice on Monday when he spoke about the attacks and how the ANC had failed to deal with the consequences of cultures of violence inherited from colonialism and the struggle against it, was quite gripping.

He was unscripted and came across as convincing. There are obviously times when speeches are needed, where facts and figures are involved, but a castigation by the leader of our country about our bad behavior needs no script. He should trust himself to say it right and say it well.

*Mathatha Tsedu is a former Editor of City Press and Sunday Times.

News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    jacob zuma  |  xenophobia

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